Pandemic impacted Chandler foster, adoption agency - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Pandemic impacted Chandler foster, adoption agency

November 22nd, 2021 SanTan Sun News
Pandemic impacted Chandler foster, adoption agency
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Pandemic impacted Chandler foster, adoption agency

By Ken Sain
Staff Writer

It’s no surprise to anyone that COVID-19 has disrupted many industries and lives since it began spreading about two years ago. One area where its impact gets little attention is foster care.

Barb Trella, director of development for Aid to Adoption for Special Kids (AASK), said it is not altogether surprising that the pandemic impacted the availability of foster parents.

“Recruiting foster and adoptive families is difficult enough in the best of times,” Trella said. “It’s not what’s right for every family. Families really have to decide if this is what they want.”

She said the pandemic made it much more difficult.

“Parents were home, home-schooling their kids, and the idea of bringing more children into their family, the idea of bringing kids in who might also bring this dreaded COVID into their family, I think was really scary to a lot of people last year.”

AASK has three Arizona offices, including one in Chandler that serves the East Valley. Trella said when the pandemic first started, there was a significant decrease in the number of children entering the foster care system.

She said that’s because with everyone at home and locked down, there were fewer eyes to catch possible abuse or neglect. Oftentimes, teachers or other staff see troubling indications when students are in class.

That changed once the world starting getting back to normal.

Trella said there’s been a 25 percent increase in the number of children entering the system. There are now more than 13,000 children in Arizona’s foster care system.

“At the same time, there’s been a decrease in the number of prospective foster and adoptive families,” Trella said. “So we’ve got both numbers going in the wrong direction, quite honestly.”

AASK started out as an organization that specializes in helping children with special needs, namely autism and Down syndrome. However, Trella said now they try and help all children.

“Right around the holidays we typically see a surge,” said Harleigh Storm Castle one of the family specialists who works in the Chandler office. “We just don’t have enough families that are signing up.”

She said a lot of foster parents chose not to renew when the pandemic began for a variety of reasons. That has left them with fewer foster parents at a time when they are getting more children into the system.

Trella and Storm Castle estimated about half of the 13,000 foster children in Arizona are looking for foster or adoptive parents.

Storm Castle said anyone can be a foster parent. She said she works with single moms, single dads, couples, families with children, and families that have never had children.

“There’s not one specific kind of family that we look for,” Storm Castle said. “I have all of those that I just said. There’s not one family structure that we look for either, we encourage all of them.”

For those who want to help but cannot for whatever reason be a full-time parent, Trella said they have a mentoring program. Adults sign up to be a mentor to a foster kid who lives in a group home, meeting with them once or twice a month.

So what’s in it for the children?

“They are getting a meaningful relationship,” Trella said. “They are having another adult in their life who cares about them. … Sometimes for these older kids, they are getting close to turning 18 and they don’t necessarily want to be adopted. Having a relationship with a caring mentor is extremely valuable.”

Trella said the state offers a dollar-to-dollar tax credit for donations to foster care agencies up to $500 for individuals and $1,000 for couples.

“If people can’t personally make that difference to the children in the foster care system, they can still do things that help,” Trella said.

Pandemic impacted Chandler foster, adoption agency

How you can help

• Qualify to be a foster or adoptive parent.

• Be a mentor. They meet with a child who lives in a group home twice a month.

• Donate. AASK accepts donations to help cover costs.

Visit aask-az.org.

 

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